Innovative marketing pays off for movies

brandweek1.JPGMy latest column is up over at Brandweek. This one is just kind of a fun piece where I talk about how some of the mid-tier films of the summer were able to achieve success with marketing efforts that didn’t just included MySpace pages and massive TV ad buys. These are movies that, for the most part, did not have familiar characters and huge franchising opportunities to fall back on and so had to carve out brand identities (there’s that concept again) for themselves in order to compete against the big boys of the summer. Check it out if you like.

Marketing Movies: Sometimes the Right Path is the Uncommon One


NEW YORK — The success this summer of movies like the third installments of Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek and Spider-Man, as well as the debut of Transformers, is likely seen by some as proof that huge marketing campaigns work. That’s true—at least to some extent. It doesn’t hurt that they were all sequels or were based on long-lived and popular properties. They all had existing fan bases and had easy marketing hooks, asking the audience to come along on a new adventure with familiar characters.

But there were other successful movies this summer that may not have scored Transformers-like money but were successful, making back their production costs and connecting with audiences. They achieved that success by following a few simple guidelines for differentiating themselves:

Present Something Original: Knocked Up probably shouldn’t have been a success, not in this summer crowded with noisy blockbusters. But the campaign was focused around star Seth Rogen, someone most people probably weren’t familiar with. And the trailers showed him being funny, but realistically funny. His man-child character was not a comedic one, just someone who dealt with life by having fun. Most of us can identify with that, or at least can aspire to that, something that helped the movie stand out.

Word-of-Mouth Trumps the 30-Second Spot: So many movies with huge expensive campaigns drop 50-60% in the second week of their release. Why? Because people who saw it opening weekend are now telling their friends to avoid it. But a movie like Once, a romance between an Irish musician and a married woman, got positive buzz and so built its audience week in and week out. People began to feel they had discovered a rare gem and took possession of the movie, almost like they were championing a cause. To date the movie has grossed over $30 million (based on a mere $150,000 production budget) and just received its first paid marketing push.

Being Quirky Never Hurt Anyone: The trailers and TV spots for Waitress mostly focused around Keri Russell’s character making pies. She, in voice-over, explained her mood and, subsequently, what ingredients she was putting in the pie and then proceeded to do just that. She was venting her feelings, something that, again, most in the audience could likely relate to, creating an emotional connection. I feel confident the pie-making has rarely if ever been the focal point of a movie’s marketing campaign. I’d be willing to bet, then, that a good portion of the audience then decided they would go see “that pie movie.”

Know Your Audience: Superbad is a hit not only for the warm heart that most stories have pointed out lies beneath the jokes in the popular sex-centric comedy. It’s also a hit because—and I don’t think I’m exaggerating—everyone in the audience felt like that at some point in their lives. The movie was aimed not so much at teens with its R rating but at the adults that were able to look back at their own lives and find similarities with what was going on in the movie.

When In Doubt, Include Spider-Pig: I think this one speaks for itself.

The common thread here is the connection these non-blockbusters were able to establish the audience. That sort of method of winning the hearts of the audience can prove a valuable tool when you don’t have familiarity and huge budgets to fall back on.

By Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.